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Relocated NBA Teams: The New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets

The New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets was the name given to the New Orleans Hornets franchise during the 2005/2006 and 2006/2007 seasons, when they played most of their games in Oklahoma. The arrangement was necessitated by the extensive damage that the New Orleans Arena, home to the New Orleans Hornets had suffered in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Many cities had expressed their desire to host the Hornets as they repaired their stadium and Oklahoma was chosen because there was already a vacant and well maintained stadium available. The team adopted the name New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets in order to gain wider acceptance among Oklahoma fans. The Hornets franchise can trace its roots to 1988 in the form of the Charlotte Hornets which then relocated to New Orleans in 2002. The two franchises were however disassociated in 2013 when the Hornets relinquished the name, history and records of the team from 1988-2002 to the Charlotte Bobcats, who subsequently became the new reincarnation of the Charlotte Hornets. The Hornet’s main stadium during their time in Oklahoma was the Ford Stadium but they also used the Loyd Noble Center at the University of Oklahoma, the Pete Maravich Assembly Center at the Louisiana State University and the New Orleans Arena for some games.

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Oklahoma City was genuinely excited to host the Hornets if the reception they got was anything to go by. When season tickets went on sale, the fans went for them like ravens and 10,000 had already been sold within six weeks. This caught a lot of people by surprise given the Hornets had only won 18 games the previous season. Perhaps it wasn’t about the franchise itself but just the prestige of being an NBA team. The enthusiasm the fans showed convinced the NBA to create a franchise for Oklahoma, hence today’s existence of the Oklahoma Thunder. During the team’s first match, the atmosphere around the OKC City Stadium was electric as the sellout crowd of 19,263 excited fans welcomed their team. Fans wore commemorative T-shirts and held up “Welcome” banners for the occasion.

The fanfare did not stop there as players were treated like royalty around the city. They were given free meals at restaurants and free accommodation in hotels. Chris Paul, then a rookie was even given a free BMW by a vehicle dealership as his car had not yet been shipped into the city. The team responded in kind, giving the fans a performance to remember as they beat the Sacramento Kings 93-67 in their first game. They were however unable to keep up the tempo as they lost 109-87 to the Cleveland Cavaliers in their very next game. They looked on course to a playoff appearance as they held a 31-26 record by February 28 2006 but they went 7-18 for the remaining games to finish the season in tenth in the Western Conference with a 38-44 record. They won one more game the following season but they still finished out of playoff places.

Why were the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets Relocated?

Initially, the Hornets were scheduled to stay in Oklahoma for one year. However, the positive reception the team got caught the NBA by surprise. The team saw a 78% rise in attendance figures over its New Orleans numbers. Although repairs at the New Orleans Arena had already been completed and the stadium was ready for use at the beginning of the 2006/2007 season, the NBA decided to extend the stay in Oklahoma by one more year. The reason given was that the New Orleans market needed more time to recover but there were mummers that the NBA was considering a permanent stay in Oklahoma. That season, attendance was down 15% and it became evident that the original excitement was beginning to die down. On October 31, 2007, the Hornets left Oklahoma City and returned to New Orleans, dropping Oklahoma City from their name to once again go by New Orleans Hornets. Oklahoma would not miss NBA action long as the NBA approved a move there by the Seattle Supersonics, who were renamed Oklahoma City Thunder. Meanwhile the Hornets relinquished the “Hornets” nickname to Charlotte City where it had originated and adopted the name “Pelicans”, which they use today.

New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets Notable Players

Chris Paul PG 2005-2007
David West PF 2005-2007
Peja Stojakovic SF 2006-2007
Rasual Butler SF 2005-2007
P.J. Brown C 2005/2006
Desmond Mason SF 2005-2007
Speedy Claxton PG 2005/2006
Devin Brown SG 2006/2007
Jannero Pargo PG 2006/2007
Kirk Snyder SG 2005/2006

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